Big Sleep, The

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					Bigsleep4.0 out of 5 stars So It's Not Bogie and Bacall; It Still Works, March 3, 2007
Stephanie DePue (Carolina Beach, NC USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Big Sleep (DVD)
The American movie star Robert Mitchum headlines the 1978 English-made adaptation
of Californian Raymond Chandler's famous noir novel, "The Big Sleep," generally
considered an inferior remake of the 1946 American-made adaptation of the same novel,
starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In any case, the plot centers on private
investigator Marlowe, called to the aid of a rich family, the Sternwoods, who are being
blackmailed. It then meanders to many highways and byways.

The 1946 American version is a classic of film noir, and an enduring entry in the
Bogie/Bacall canon. But can we look at it a bit more closely? It's a Howard Hawks
production, from Warner Brothers Studios. It is, of course, in black and white: Warners'
made everything in black and white. And who says a noir film can't be done in color?
What about the later "Body Heat," "Against All Odds," or "The Long Goodbye?" Or the
famous trio of noir pictures from the far side of the pond, "Mona Lisa," "Get Carter," and
"The Long Good Friday?"

Hawks and Warners' did spring for famous novelist William Faulkner as head
screenwriter on the picture. But it could hardly be more obvious that what all three
wanted was simply a follow-up vehicle for Bogie and Bacall, who'd just burned up the
screen in "To Have And To Have Not." From looking at the picture, a case can be made
that any story would have done them, as long as it showcased the studio's new golden
couple, and they sure didn't throw money up on the screen. Black and white. Filmed
totally on the back lot: General Sternwood is supposed to be rich, yet we never see the
exterior of his house, only interiors. In fact, almost the entire movie is shot in interiors.
The picture had Bogie and Bacall, all right; Martha Vickers and Dorothy Malone in
important supporting parts. Beyond that, you'll notice Warners' didn't even send over
their usual suspects on the A list of supporting players, the people you see in
"Casablanca." Only supporting players you've ever heard of are Elisha Cook and Bob
Steele. However, Warners' did send over a half-dozen young studio starlets, whose sole
purpose seems to be making eyes at Bogie, as if they needed to underline his
attractiveness to the female sex. And the studio stops the movie cold so Bacall can sing a
sexy song: hey, it worked in "To Have and To Have Not."

Let's take a closer look at the English version. Sir Lew Grade did spend money on the
picture. He moved it to England, well, okay. He filmed it in color, horrors. He and
Michael Winner, the director/screenwriter do open the story up, showing us exteriors, the
English countryside, scenes of London. Nothing wrong with that. It's not as
claustrophobic as the '46 version-- must film noir be claustrophobic? Some elements of
the book and the Bogart treatment don't play as well as they did; the child pornography in
the bookstore, the porn its owner is making of Carmen Sternwood, the bookstore owner's
gay lover. They were hardly earth-shattering in 1970's England. In fact, it's popularly
thought that England was awash in that stuff at that time. So the movie loses some force

Many people consider Mitchum too old to play Marlowe, and he was, by a couple of
decades. But the humanity of his lived-in fact adds a dimension of feeling to the picture.
His fancy car, suits and Rolex watch? It's a puzzlement. Many people also consider Sarah
Miles to be no Lauren Bacall, and she wasn't. Furthermore, if there's a hairdressers' hell,
that's where her hairdresser belongs; her clothes are kind of clunky, too. But Charles
Waldron, who played the General in '46, is no Jimmy Stewart, who played the General in
'78. The Warners' butler, Charles D. Brown, was no Harry Andrews, the British. The
Warners' Eddie Mars, John Ridgely, was no Oliver Reed. The Warners' Mona Mars,
Peggy Knudsen, was no Diana Quick. The Warners' Bernie Ohls, Regis Toomie, was no
Sir John Mills. The Warners' Joe Brody, Louis Jean Heyd, was no Edward Fox. The
Warners' Agnes, Dorothy Malone, in fact, was no Joan Collins. The Warners' Bob Steele,
as Lash Canino, sorry, but he was no Richard Boone. The Warners' Jonesie, actually,
Elisha Cook, was no Colin Blakely, either. And then there's Richard Todd as the English
Commander Blake. Candy Clark in the English Carmen role, well, she gets naked, and
Martha Vickers' is the class act.

Basically, these are two different pictures, made with different aims, and by different
philosophies. The Mitchum picture has stood up to the test of time, as has Bogart's. A lot
of people will tell you the English take is truer to Chandler's book than is Hollywood's.
(Though neither movie can solve the mystery of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood family
chauffeur, found in the family limo, in the water, dead) Then again, the author Chandler,
who cobbled together three short stories to make this book, never did solve that bit
himself. In sum, the English ending is much truer to the book's than is Hollywood's. After
all, the book and movies are called "The Big Sleep," and they are, at their heart, about the
disappearance of Rusty Regan, and where he might be.

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